First trial in state abortion ban challenges kicks off in Georgia

An unoccupied exam room at a Planned Parenthood center in White Plains, New York, U.S., April 3, 2020. Picture taken on April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Liliana Engelbrecht
  • Abortion ban challenger calls the law a "tremendous intrusion"
  • State tells judge nothing in constitution "even hints at a right to abortion"
  • There are more than a dozen legal challenges against new abortion bans

(Reuters) - A trial began Monday over a challenge by Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups to Georgia's ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The non-jury trial before Judge Robert McBurney of the Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta began with arguments by the groups on the state's motion to dismiss the case, on which the judge has said he will not rule until at least November.

The plaintiffs, which also include Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and the Center for Reproductive Rights, argue that the state law violates Georgians' fundamental rights to liberty and privacy under the state constitution, which Solicitor General Stephen Petrany strenuously denied.

"There's nothing that even hints at a right to abortion under Georgia's constitution," he told McBurney. He said abortion was not a private matter for the mother because it also affected the fetus.

"These are unborn children that the state wants to protect," he said.

Julia Kaye of the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing for the challengers, countered that wanting to protect fetuses did not give the state "a free pass to impose this tremendous intrusion onto Georgians' lives, bodies and health."

Kaye also argued that the 2019 ban was "void ab initio," or invalid as soon as the law was passed, because it violated the right to abortion recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. She said the Supreme Court's June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health overturning that right could not simply revive a law that was void, and that the legislature would have to pass it again if that was the will of the people.

The 2019 ban had been blocked because of Roe, but the state's Supreme Court allowed it to take effect in July. It bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks, with exceptions to save the mother's life and for rape that is reported to the police.

Abortion rights advocates have filed more than a dozen legal challenges against new abortion bans adopted by Republican-led states around the country since Dobbs, with mixed results so far. This week's proceeding in Georgia marks the first full trial on the merits in such a case, and is expected to last two days.

The case is Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective v. State of Georgia, Superior Court of Fulton County, No. 2022CV367796.

For plaintiffs: Julia Stone of Caplan Cobb; Julia Kaye of the ACLU; and Tiana Mykkeltvedt of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore

For the state: Solicitor General Stephen Petrany

Read more:

Court allows Georgia 'heartbeat' abortion ban to take effect

U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ends constitutional right to abortion

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.